Some of the strongest electromagnetic fields (EMF) are found in the workplace. A European Directive sets limits to workers' exposure to EMF. This review summarizes its origin and contents and compares magnetic field exposure levels in high-risk workplaces with the limits set in the revised Directive. Pubmed, Scopus, grey literature databases, and websites of organizations involved in occupational exposure measurements were searched. The focus was on EMF with frequencies up to 10 MHz, which can cause stimulation of the nervous system. Selected studies had to provide individual maximum exposure levels at the workplace, either in terms of the external magnetic field strength or flux density or as induced electric field strength or current density. Indicative action levels and the corresponding exposure limit values for magnetic fields in the revised European Directive will be higher than those in the previous version. Nevertheless, magnetic flux densities in excess of the action levels for peripheral nerve stimulation are reported for workers involved in welding, induction heating, transcranial magnetic stimulation, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The corresponding health effects exposure limit values for the electric fields in the worker's body can be exceeded for welding and MRI, but calculations for induction heating and transcranial magnetic stimulation are lacking. Since the revised European Directive conditionally exempts MRI-related activities from the exposure limits, measures to reduce exposure may be necessary for welding, induction heating, and transcranial nerve stimulation. Since such measures can be complicated, there is a clear need for exposure databases for different workplace scenarios with significant EMF exposure and guidance on good practices.
Keywords: electromagnetic fields; legislation; occupational exposure; peripheral nervous system.
© The Author 2014. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the British Occupational Hygiene Society.